This captivating and illuminating book is a memoir of a young black man moving from rural Georgia to life as a student and teacher in the Ivy League as well as a history of the changes in American education that developed in response to the civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam, and affirmative action. Born in 1950, Horace Porter starts out in rural Georgia in a house that has neither electricity nor running water. In 1968, he leaves his home in Columbus, Georgia—thanks to an academic scholarship to Amherst College—and lands in an upper-class, mainly white world. Focusing on such experiences in his American education, Porter's story is both unique and representative of his time.
The Making of a Black Scholar is structured around schools. Porter attends Georgia's segregated black schools until he enters the privileged world of Amherst College. He graduates (spending one semester at Morehouse College) and moves on to graduate study at Yale. He starts his teaching career at Detroit's Wayne State University and spends the 1980s at Dartmouth College and the 1990s at Stanford University.
Porter writes about working to establish the first black studies program at Amherst, the challenges of graduate study at Yale, the infamous Dartmouth Review, and his meetings with such writers and scholars as Ralph Ellison, Tillie Olsen, James Baldwin, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. He ends by reflecting on an unforeseen move to the University of Iowa, which he ties into a return to the values of his childhood on a Georgia farm. In his success and the fulfillment of his academic aspirations, Porter represents an era, a generation, of possibility and achievement.
“Horace Porter has provided us with an excellent evocation of one of the most overlooked dimensions of the black American experience since desegregation began in the 1960s: the movement of black American scholars from segregated academic institutions into higher and higher levels of formerly white academic institutions. This process of 'intellectual integration,' with all its pains and risks and glory, is brilliantly captured by Horace Porter in the review of his own academic career. This is a rich and warmly felt memoir, one that is very much needed.” —James Alan McPherson
“The Making of a Black Scholar recaptures in often vivid and convincing detail the later twentieth-century experience and reflections of Horace Porter. His energy, ambition, and talent carried him from a segregated childhood in a rural black family in Geogia to the higher halls of American education—Amherst, Yale, Dartmouth, Wayne State, Stanford, and Iowa. His memoir becomes less a record of acknowledged achievement for an aspiring black man than movement through and beyond revered but restrictive white worlds of American academe. Because these places haven’t changed as much as America itself (or as our black population) would have wished or actually realized, his powerful story remains an instructive and sobering one to read.”—Albert E. Stone